Chaucer's attitude to the Church in the Prologue to the Canterbury tales.
Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in the 14th Century. At the time the church had a very high status, and was very powerful. People went on long pilgrimages to visit holy places.
The Canterbury tales is about a group of pilgrims who each told stories on their pilgrimage to Canterbury. Many of the pilgrims were a part of the church. There was a prioress, a monk, a friar, a parson, a nun, three priests, a pardoner, and a summoner. In the prologue Chaucer shows his opinions of the church when he writes about these religious characters.
The first religious character, the Prioress, is an important nun, who also brought with her another nun and three priests. Nuns should have no possessions, live simple lives, should eat simple food, and look after the poor, sick and needy. Chaucer describes a lady, known as Madame Eglentyne, who he describes as vain, and who eats very good food.
''Ful semely after hir mete she raughte.'' (Attractively she reached for meat to eat).
When he talks about her morals. He talks of her very strong feelings for her pet dog.
"But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed,'' (But sore she'd weep if one of them were dead,)
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte" (Or if men hit it with a rod to hard)
Chaucer doesn't comment on how the prioress feels about the poor. You get the impression that they don't mean anything to her.
She has jewelry, expensive personal items which nuns should not own.
"Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene
And theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,"
Another example of her extravigance is that she feeds her dog much better food than the average person can afford to eat. A nun should be leading a simple life. The prioress herself shouldn't indulge in eating such good food herself.
"Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed."
Chaucer does not directly criticise the prioress but emphasizes the high standard of living that she has. Chaucer allows the reader to make up their own mind about whether she is a good example of a nun.
The next important religious character introduced by Chaucer is the monk who is critisised more than the nun. He is portrayed as a rich man who owns many horses.
"Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere"
He did not obey the rules of the monastery that he thought were old and too strict.
"The reule of seint maure or of seint beneit, (The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict)
By cause that it was old and somdel streit (By reason it was old and somewhat strict)
This ilke monk leet olde thynges pace (This said monk let such old things slowly pace)
And heeld after the newe world the space."(And followed new-world manners in their place)
He didn't spend any time working, or studying in the cloisters.
"What sholde he studie and make hymselven wood, (What? Should he study as a madman would
Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure, (Upon a book in cloister cell? Or yet
Or swynken with his handes, and laboure" (Go labour with his hands and sweat,
His passion was hunting and he did nothing else.
"Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare"
Chaucer hints that he was possibly a womaniser
"A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was"
He, like the prioress, over indulged in expensive food.
"A fat swan loved he best of any roost." (.A fat swan loved he best of any roast.)
Chaucer starts off by describing the friar as an amiable person who is fun to know.
"Ful wel biloved and famulier was he (Well liked by all and intimate was he
With frankeleyns over al in his contree, (With franklins everywhere in his country,)
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun" (And with the worthy women of the town)
But it soon emerges that the friar...
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